There were things in life that frightened Cloud. Badly. More than anything else in the entire world.
Squirrels. Oh, how squirrels were scary. They weren't chubby and sweet and tiny like chipmunks, and didn't have those little eyes that looked rather sweet; they were evil, with that coarse, gray hair that looked rather like Cloud's grandmother's old bingo pal, and those tiny, beady eyes that reminded Cloud rather of his grandmother's bingo pal too. God, his grandma's bingo pal was scary. And as a result, Cloud was also traumatized by the term "Bingo" (Don't ask).
Lollipops. There was something about lollipops that made Cloud's skin crawl unpleasantly, leaving all that sticky, slimy sugar all around your mouth. Sure, some people claimed that all the cool people sucked on lollipops. Heck, some even claimed that it turned them on. Cloud didn't actually know what "turning it on" meant-he always was rather naïve-but he did know that lollipops turned him off more than anything.
Ah, after those two, so many things were scary as well. Clowns, piranhas, crocodiles and alligators (referred to differently because they were definitely not the same, no, nope), and a whole number of little things that all made their way into hundreds of little yellow chocobo notebooks, all stacked neatly underneath Cloud's bed for no apparent reason other than a family psychiatrist had claimed it would "let out his inhibitions".
In Nibelheim-aka, sweet little hick town somewhere in the middle of nowhere, commonly known as "Cloud's home sweet home"-no one was afraid of anything. Bandersnatch? Aw, heck, those things are too easy to kill! Mountain lion? Eh, they make great pickings for a family of more than five, especially if you roast the cubs. With mentalities like that, Cloud stuck out like a sore swollen thumb. Everyone wasn't at all sure what sort of medical ailment Cloud had, but it wasn't really certain, no matter how hard they tried.
The truth was, Cloud didn't really have any kind of medical ailment; he was just under an extreme emotion that no one in Nibelheim really knew-fear.
And thus, as was always the way with those who do not understand, Nibelheim tried to cure it.
It didn't help, however, that Cloud was a scrawny little thing. As far as anyone knew, he only grew an inch or so a year. Whenever anyone dared take him mountain lion hunting, they had to keep a close eye on him to make sure that his quarry didn't end up dragging him away. Bandersnatches were out of the picture. They even tried giving him the speech-if his father had been the greatest hunter and bravest in the land Cloud could do it too. (This didn't work because, in truth, no one knew if he actually had been the greatest and bravest hunter in the land, and Nibelheimers were bad at convincingly lying.)
But it just wasn't working.
So, in despair, they left him alone, and found more useful ways to occupy their time. Cloud, meanwhile, grew up a mini, frightened thing, easily intimidated by the bullies and not taken along on any father-son hunting missions because a) he didn't have a father, at least so far as he knew, and b) he couldn't hunt for the life of him because he was afraid of blood.
This could have gone on forever...except that while he did lack a father to do fatherly things with, he did have a mother: a mother who was pretty strong in the aspects of both motherhood...and fatherhood. She claimed to know everything about her kid-and, as most mothers, she did, counting the "spidey senses" of knowing when Cloud was raiding the fridge, and minus the necessary emotions and worries of the normal teenage kid.
So, as most mothers often do, Mrs. Strife sat her son down on the ripped couch in what was claimed to be the living room, opting for the wicker chair herself, and set out all his favorite foods in front of him on the low coffee table-quite a feat, for though Cloud did love foods, he was a very picky eater.
Mrs. Strife waited very patiently for Cloud's eyes to stop bulging and for him to start stuffing his cheeks before she began. "Now Cloud," she said, "I realize that you're rather...different from the other children, in many ways."
Cloud nodded happily, his mouth stuffed with cake, having also adhered to another commonality of teenage boys-the act of eating and not at all listening to what your mother is saying to you.
"So, I want to find a way to have you...fit in. Feel better about yourself...not be...afraid all the time." Mrs. Strife wrung her hands in her lap, looking tearful. Cloud stuffed another bonbon-(freakin' bonbons? He never got these!) -into his already fullish mouth and smiled around it. There was nothing frightening about sweets.
"So, honey, I know you might be mad at me, but..." Mrs. Strife leaned worriedly forwards, "I've signed you up for the army."
A bonbon fell to the floor.
Suddenly, Cloud felt sick.
"I've enlisted you. You're going to attend Shinra Military Academy."
"You need to have some way to feel better about yourself and stop being scared of your own shadow all the time."
Cloud was offended. He wasn't afraid of his own shadow...it was everyone else's'.
"Anyway," his mother continued, twisting her skirts, "Many boys from Nibelheim are dying to attend a prestigious academy like that. You'll be put into intense training to be a SOLDIER, and...and you'll be able to work off all that baby fat from all the sweets you've been eating!"
The tray of bonbons looked really frightening now. So there had been a catch.
"And General Sephiroth will be there!"
Cloud's entire face went white. "W-W-WHAT?"
Stepping aside from this scene for a moment, let us journey into the backstory to find out what led up to Mrs. Strife's decision.
Truth be told, there were many things that Cloud was afraid of (the aforementioned in the beginning just those at the top of the list), but there was one thing that he was afraid of above all else in the world. That was General Sephiroth-for some reason that probably if asked, Cloud could not even say.
As for his mother? In her worried state of trying to cure her son of his irrational (to Nibelheim standards, of course) fears, she had gone hunting around his room for the source of his fears...and stumbled across his little chocobo journals underneath the bed, which turned out to be good for something. It took fifteen of the books to go through, but finally Mrs. Strife found what she was looking for-two whole books dedicated to Cloud's frantic handwriting just scribbling out two words over and over and over again: General Sephiroth. General Sephiroth. General Sephiroth...
So, following the example of mothers everywhere, Mrs. Strife consulted The Guide to Raising a Heroic Son (Even From Cowardly Beginnings) -the Internet version. There were many methods, but with Cloud's severe case, there was only one true cure: have him face what he was most afraid of.
Mrs. Strife was sure that she had found what he was most afraid of.
She might have been a sweet woman, but as many who have fallen now could report if they were but still alive...
A moment of silence for the dearly departed, please...
...many others who have stood in the way of a mother on a mission have seen how that mission changes their approach on life.
This approach, for Mrs. Strife, was to immediately find a way to get her child closer to the object of his ultimate fear. This included phoning the military, signing all the proper forms (a parent's signature overrides a minor's wishes), and gathering Cloud up to tell him the news. This, coincidentally, is where this backstory becomes the story.
End of backstory.
So, even though Cloud finally fainted dead away across the coffee table once his mother informed him of her decision for the third time, there was no convincing her. The next day, all the rest of Cloud's bags were packed, his cadet uniform (a very putrid color, actually), had arrived, and Cloud was standing sickly and pale by the curb, drowning in his uniform (for the size was actually a lot larger than it should be, considering that though Cloud was a born and bred Nibelheim boy, he wasn't really the born and bred Nibelheim boy they were expecting) and looking even younger than normally.
"Now, sweetheart," Mrs. Strife said, bending and adjusting her son's uniform, and somewhat wishing that she had hemmed it, though there wasn't time, "You'll be all right, right?"
Cloud looked up at her, eyes as big and as vulnerable (he hoped) as he could make them, and nodded. "Yes, Mum."
"And...and get good grades, all right?"
"And...watch out for those...bigger boys."
Inwardly, Cloud sagged.
"And the Generals, don't let them work you too hard."
"It's...military school, Mum."
"Oh. Right, dear."
Mrs. Strife was dearly regretting her choice when the bus finally pulled around the corner (and all the neighbors opened their blinds to watch). She wrung her hands nervously as the bus pulled up, and Cloud picked up his duffel bags, even paler than before, though not of his own accord now. He almost tipped over as she suddenly latched onto him-tightly.
"P-Please be careful, Cloud!"
"Listen to me, Cloud..." Mrs. Strife swallowed. You can't tell him NOT to go; you're the one that signed him up in the first place! "Go to school, study hard, and become a SOLDIER for me, won't you?"
Cloud looked up at his mother.
The bus driver, getting impatient, slammed his hand on the horn. "'Ey! Are you just going to stand there gawking, or are you gettin' on the effin' bus?"
Cloud carefully hugged his mother back. "Yes, Mum. I promise to do that."
His mother beamed, somewhat awkwardly through the tears. "Good boy."
So Cloud boarded the bus, and his beginnings at Shinra Academy started. Granted, he was supposed to be thinking of all the things that scared him, but instead...all he could think about was what his mother said.
Yeah. Right then and there, huddled on his creaky bus seat with his duffels, Cloud swore that he would make SOLDIER and make his mother proud. He also swore in a very different way for a very different reason.
He'd forgotten to go to the bathroom before he went.
The bus jolted violently, and Cloud crossed his legs with a whimper.
Promise to mother or not, this was going to be miserable.
A/N: Hi! I suck at these author's notes...but anyway, this was originally supposed to be a one-shot, but it turned into a four-shot instead. That'll be "The Setup" (which you just got through reading), "The Premise", "Act I", and "Act II"; at least, I think so for right now. It was written last night when I was SUPPOSED to be doing homework...and I don't know exactly where it came from, but I was experimenting. Expect it to suck; and if anyone's worrying, it is shoenin ai (I didn't spell that right, I KNOW it.).
Thanks for reading, and if you have read this far, please review! (Or flame, if you like; it doesn't bother me.)
Should've gone at the top, but...
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII, characters, or anything related to the game or the game company.